Vast quantities of data are freely available on the Web, and it can be a potential treasure trove for many businesses–providing they can figure out how to use it effectively.
A company can, for example, comb through data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and court records prior to acquiring another company to see if any of its intellectual property is tied up in legal action. In practice, however, going through so much information takes time and effort to orchestrate.
IBM hopes that a new tool, called BigSheets, will help users analyze Web data more easily. The company has developed a test version of the software for the British Library.
“The ability of any user to do their own types of interesting analytics is coming of age,” says Rod Smith, vice president of emerging Internet technologies for IBM.
BigSheets is built on top of another piece of software called Hadoop. This is an open-source platform for processing very large amounts of Web data by splitting up tasks and handing them off to a cluster of different computers. Hadoop is often used to analyze large amounts of unstructured Web data.
BigSheets uses Hadoop to crawl through Web pages, parsing them to extract key terms and other useful data. BigSheets organizes this information in a very large spreadsheet, where users can analyze it using the sort of tools and macros found in desktop spreadsheet software. Unlike ordinary spreadsheet software, however, there’s no limit to the size of a spreadsheet created through BigSheets.
To use BigSheets, a user would point the tool at a set of URLs or a repository of data. Lists of terms can be used to organize the data into rows and tables, and these can be adjusted later.
Smith says that IBM chose the spreadsheet as the model for organizing data because most users are already familiar with such software. If users want to represent the data in more complex ways, the tool will work with an IBM visualization tool called Many Eyes, as well as other visualization software.